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Old Testament Stories, Life Application and Doctrine

August 14, 2018 9 comments

As I continue studies in Old Testament lessons, from Reformed sources such as Charles Spurgeon sermons and Tabletalk magazine monthly studies, I appreciate the depth of content related to so many biblical doctrines, and life application—from what seem, on the surface, as mere children’s stories.  In fact, one of the Tabletalk articles from July 2007 — a study through Genesis, now on the life of Joseph – points out this very fact, that the stories of the patriarchs are more than just tales for children.  They are accounts of actual, historical events that occurred in time and space history, involving real people and real problems that are applicable to us today.  The story of Joseph and his brothers teaches us many things:  about dysfunctional families and family favoritism, about the consequences of our sin; but above all, the truth of God’s providence and God’s sovereignty, and God’s purposes – and the hope that gives us:

Our mistakes and transgressions cannot derail God’s purposes. We do not take this truth for granted and use it to excuse our sin (Rom. 6:1–2), but we also must never come to the place where we believe we have fallen to the point where our Father cannot use us. Through faith and repentance we can be blessed as our sovereign Creator works out His will in history (Deut. 30:1–10).

Spurgeon took a similar in-depth approach of good application and even doctrinal instruction from the Genesis stories, the lives of the patriarchs.  A few recent examples from my Spurgeon sermon reading include these sermons from the 1868 volume:

  • Sermon #837, Jacob’s life, and his complaint of unbelief in Genesis 42:36

and this three-part sermon series links on the life of Abraham

In the first of these, Spurgeon connected the (King James Version) expression ‘all these things’  to point out: 1) the exclamation of unbelief (Jacob’s unbelief in Genesis 42:36), 2) the philosophy of experience (Isaiah 38:16), and finally, the triumph of faith (Romans 8:37).  From Jacob’s life w­e see the example of how we are all so prone to react to trials and difficulties:  bitterness, exaggeration, and anger towards God.  In Jacob’s case it was at most three things – Joseph, Simeon, and Benjamin, yet:

Jacob was, in the expression before us, even bitter towards God! There is not a word like submission in the sentence, nothing of resignation, nothing of confidence; he knew very well that all things came from God, and in effect he declares that God is, in all these things, fighting against him! God forbid that these tongues, which owe their power to speak to the great God, should ever pervert their powers to slandering Him! And yet if our tongues have not spoken unbelievingly, how often our hearts have done so; we have said, “Why has God dealt thus with me? Why are His strokes so multiplied? Why are my wounds so blue? Oh, why am I thus chastised?

The later two texts show the positive movement from Jacob’s unbelief, to enlightened experience:  “In all these things is the life of my spirit.”

Jacob would hardly have been fit for the luxury of Egypt, if he had not been trained by his griefs; that happy period before his death, in which he dwelt in perfect ease and peace, at the close of which, leaning upon his staff, he bore such a blessed testimony to the faithfulness of God, he would not have been fit to enjoy it—it would have been disastrous to him if he had not been prepared for it by the sorrows of Succoth. … Be of good comfort, and instead, from now on, of concluding that outward trials are against you, agree with Hezekiah in this wise sentence, “By these things men live.”

To finally the triumph of faith, the experiences of the apostle Paul:

The list is just as comprehensive in the best text as in the worst. No, poor Jacob’s, “All these things” only referred to three; but look at Paul’s list: tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword—the list is longer, darker, blacker, fiercer, sterner, but still we triumph, “In all these things we are more than conquerors.”

Old Testament ‘Calvinism’: Election, Justification, and Sanctification from the Life of Abraham

Beyond life application of relational difficulties and resolution, Spurgeon also well-demonstrated that the important doctrines of the Calvinist, Reformed faith can be taught not only from the New Testament epistles, but directly from Abraham’s life in Genesis.  After all, Paul (such as in Romans and Galatians) referenced key points in Abraham’s life; thus, common exposition on these doctrines will focus on Paul’s writings directly.  Yet here Spurgeon departed from his usual style of completely unrelated texts from week to week, by teaching the doctrines of calling/election, justification, and sanctification, all from different points in Abraham’s life as told in Genesis.  Each sermon looked at the details and considered Abraham’s actual daily life experiences, with detailed descriptions of what Abraham’s calling, later justification and later sanctification looked like.   Thus, we see his calling/election in Genesis 12:5, justification in Genesis 15:6, and sanctification in Genesis 17:1-2.  Abraham’s calling included key features such as God’s sovereignty, divine application of it, and a call to separation; and similar expansion of details regarding his justification and sanctification.  Along the way Spurgeon even adds descriptions of related truths such as perseverance and assurance, that God will complete what He is doing:

If our text may very well illustrate effectual calling, so may it PICTURE FINAL PERSEVERANCE.   “They went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and to the land of Canaan they came.”  …

two or three thoughts in this text worth remembering. “They went forth.” Energetic action! Men are not saved while they are asleep; no riding to heaven on feather beds! “They went forth to the land of Canaan.” Intelligent perception! They knew what they were doing; they did not go to work in a blundering manner, not understanding their drift.

And

To close the whole, the Lord gave to Abram an assurance of ultimate success. He would bring his seed into the Promised Land, and the people who had oppressed them, He would judge. So let it come as a sweet revelation to every believing man and woman this morning, that at the end they shall triumph, and those evils which now oppress them shall be cast beneath their feet!

Of particular interest (in the second sermon), is the connection between Abraham’s justification and his understanding of sacrifice and the covenant – how much was revealed to Abraham, that he could and did understand; we need not dismiss the Old Testament people as being completely unaware of these doctrines such that the New Testament is required in order to understand the Old:

Abram, after being justified by Faith, was led more distinctly to behold the power of sacrifice. By God’s command he killed three bullocks, three goats, three sheep, with turtle doves, and pigeons, being all the creatures ordained for sacrifice. The patriarch’s hands are stained with blood; he handles the butcher’s knife; he divides the beasts, he kills the birds; he places them in an order revealed to him by God’s Spirit at the time. There they are. Abram learns that there is no meeting with God except through sacrifice. God has shut every door except that over which the blood is sprinkled; all acceptable approaches to God must be through an atoning sacrifice—and Abram understood this.

Perhaps even more important was the next lesson which Abram had to learn. He was led to behold the covenant. I suppose that these pieces of the bullock, the lamb, the ram, and the goat were so placed that Abram stood in the midst with a part on this side, and a part on that. So he stood as a worshipper all through the day, and towards nightfall, when a horror of great darkness came over him, he fell into a deep sleep. Who would not feel a horror passing over him as he sees the great sacrifice for sin, and sees himself involved? There, in the midst of the sacrifice, he saw moving with solemn motion, a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp answering to the pillar of cloud and fire which manifested the presence of God in later days to Israel in the wilderness. In these emblems the Lord passed between the pieces of the sacrifice to meet His servant, and enter into covenant with him; this has always been the most solemn of all modes of covenant.

…Know and understand that God is in covenant bonds with you; He has made a covenant of grace with you which never can be broken; the sure mercies of David are your portion.

The Tabletalk studies as well as Spurgeon sermons provide great insights into all aspects of the Christian life, from the details of the Old Testament narrative accounts.

Horatius Bonar: God’s Way of Peace and Way of Holiness

October 16, 2014 3 comments

In my studies of the classic premillennialists, I continue to read the covenantal premillennial authors, including their many works on other doctrinal topics. Lately I have been reading several of Horatius Bonar’s books, available online as well as in audio book format (available through sermon audio). Bonar’s “God’s Way of Peace” and “God’s Way of Holiness” are interesting, fairly easy to read and in a conversational, question and answer style, with evangelistic zeal to seekers interested in the Christian faith.

God’s Way of Peace addresses salvation and justification, and here Bonar addresses more subtle errors of thought, such as focusing on the “thought” of our salvation and faith rather than the faith itself; and the error that we must love God purely for who He is rather than the “lower” selfish motive of what He has done for us.

It is not wrong to love God for what He has done for us. Not to do so, would be the very baseness of ingratitude. To love God purely for what He is, is by some spoken of as the highest kind of love, into which enters no element of self. It is not so. For in that case, you are actuated by the pleasure of loving; and this pleasure of loving an infinitely lovable and glorious Being, of necessity introduces self. Besides, to say that we are to love God solely for what He is, and not for what he Has done, is to make ingratitude an essential element of pure love. David’s love showed itself in not forgetting God’s benefits. But this ‘pure love’ soars beyond David’s and finds it a duty to be unthankful, lest perchance some selfish element mingle itself with its superhuman, super-angelic purity.

Here I also see a response to an attitude that Bonar’s contemporary, Charles Spurgeon, also noted (see this previous post): the idea that our coming to God requires some level of “fitness,” some level of repentance and feeling.

I find that the apostles shut up their hearers to immediate faith and repentance, bringing them face to face with the great object of faith, and commanding them in the name of the living God to believe, just as Jesus commanded the man with the withered arm to stretch out his hand. … The Lord did not give him any directions as to a preliminary work, or preparatory efforts, and struggles, and using of means. These are man’s attempts to bridge over the great gulf by human appliances; man’s ways of evading the awful question of his own utter impotence; man’s unscriptural devices for sliding out of inability into ability, out of unbelief into faith; man’s plan for helping God to save him; man’s self-made ladder for climbing up a little way out of the horrible pit, in the hope that God will so commiserate his earnest struggles as to do all the rest that is needed. Now God has commanded all men everywhere to repent; but he has nowhere given us any directions for obtaining repentance. God has commanded sinners to believe, but has not prescribed for them any preparatory steps or process by means of which he may be induced to give them something which he is not from the first most willing to do.

God’s Way of Holiness  looks at sanctification, including emphasis on studying God’s word and recognizing the difference between morality and the way to Christ:

 Is it the case that the sinner cannot be trusted with the gospel? In one sense this is true. He cannot be trusted with anything. He abuses everything. He turns everything to bad account. He makes everything the minister of sin. But if he cannot be trusted with the gospel, can he be trusted with the Law’? If he cannot be trusted with grace, can he be trusted with righteousness? He cannot be trusted with an immediate pardon; can he be trusted with a tardy one? He cannot be trusted with faith; can he be trusted with doubt? He cannot be trusted with peace; can he be trusted with gloom and trouble? He cannot be trusted with assurance; can he be trusted with suspense, and will uncertainty do for him what certainty cannot? That which he can, after all, best be trusted with, is the gospel. He has abused it, he may abuse it, but he is less likely to abuse it than anything else.

Bonar’s view is Reformed/Covenantal regarding the Moral Law, emphasizing the unity of the law in the Old and New Testament, and the difference between love and law, complete with many quotes from Calvin, Luther and others. Here Bonar appears to be addressing some type of antinomianism (it’s not clear exactly from where this teaching was coming), yet showing again the timelessness of Christian truth and that in every age the issues of sanctification, grace, and law must be explained.

 We do not undervalue love because we say a man is not justified by love, but by faith. We do not discourage prayer, because we preach that a man is not justified by prayer, but by faith. When we say that believing is not working, but a ceasing from work, we do not mean that the believing man is not to work; but that he is not to work for pardon, but to take it freely; and that he is to believe before he works, for works done before believing are not pleasing to God.

 

These are the commandments of the Holy Ghost, and they are law just as truly as that which was proclaimed in Horeb amid fire and darkness. And the true question with us (as we have seen) is not whether we are to obey this law or that law, but any law at all. If obedience to apostolic law be not legalism, then neither is obedience to the moral law; and if our oneness with Christ exempts or disjoins us from the moral law, it exempts and disjoins us from all law whatsoever, for everything in the shape of law, or precept, or commandment, contained in Scripture, is from the one Spirit of God, whether in the book of Exodus or the epistle to the Romans. …

 

Of angels this is said to be the highest felicity, that ‘they do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word’ (Psa 103:20); just as of those from whom the Lord has removed transgression as far as the east is from the west, it is said that ‘they remember His commandments to do them’ (Psa 103:12,18). But if this theory of the total disjunction of the law from believers be true, then angels must be in bondage, and they also to whom Paul refers as specimens of the blessed men whose transgressions are forgiven by the imputation of “righteousness without works” (Rom 4:6).

The Lordship Controversy: Specials from the S. Lewis Johnson Miscellaneous Files

March 17, 2011 4 comments

In my recent exercise sessions, I’ve been listening to an assortment of topical messages from S. Lewis Johnson.  Interesting topics have included reviews of John MacArthur’s book Charismatic Chaos, another concerning MacArthur and the Lordship controversy, as well as John Stott, George Muller, and Israel and the PLO Peace Treaty.

The “Lordship Controversy” message was recorded in 1989, soon after the publication of MacArthur’s book, “The Gospel According to Jesus” and as an accompaniment to an article that S. Lewis Johnson had published in Christianity Today magazine (September 1989).  Amongst all the rhetoric over the years on both sides (and I have concurred with the MacArthur view, as best as I understand it), SLJ presented the proper perspective:  that we really need to understand the definitions and terminology that the different people are using.  Zane Hodge didn’t clearly define what he meant.  Ryrie apparently stated some things in an unclear way so that he was misunderstood, but elsewhere Ryrie stated his belief as one that is more accurate.  MacArthur for the most part is right, but in his book he showed some inconsistency — in some places saying that the believer first coming to Christ must give Him total 100% commitment/Lordship, but then backing off in other places and saying, well not 100%.

The matter really involves understanding the difference between justification and sanctification, and MacArthur’s book (as he himself has said) came out of his own frustration at seeing the easy-believism methods and techniques used to bring people to the Lord, but then not proving to be true conversions.  Interestingly, S. Lewis Johnson picked up on this as the likely thing that prompted MacArthur to write the book (the general feelings of pastors, teaching a lot and disappointed with the results), even though at that time he was unfamiliar with the details that MacArthur would mention in later interviews.  I recall, for instance, MacArthur telling about the times he met strangers (such as on airplanes), who asked him basic questions about how to be saved — and he would right then and there give a gospel presentation and guide them into making a confession of faith.  But then when he followed up with those people, the conversions proved to be incomplete and false.

The confusion between justification and sanctification, though, is an age-old one — and again I refer back to J.C. Ryle’s classic work, Holiness, as a good source for understanding the difference between these two doctrines.  See also my previous blog on the introduction to his book for more background concerning that book and the “Holiness” Keswick movement of the late 19th century.

J.C. Ryle’s Holiness: Chapter 2, Sanctification

October 28, 2010 2 comments

This chapter has some great insights.  I have previously mentioned the “means of grace,” and this chapter contains J.C. Ryle’s reference to that term.

A few quotes I found especially helpful and comforting:

Sanctification is a thing which cannot justify a man, and yet it pleases God. The holiest actions of the holiest saint that ever lived are all more or less full of defects and imperfections. They are either wrong in their motive or defective in their performance and in themselves are nothing better than “splendid sins,” deserving God’s wrath and condemnation. To suppose that such actions can stand the severity of God’s judgment, atone for sin and merit heaven is simply absurd. “By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified.” “We conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Rom. 3:20–28). … For all this, however, the Bible distinctly teaches that the holy actions of a sanctified man, although imperfect, are pleasing in the sight of God. “With such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Heb. 13:16). “Obey your parents . . . for this is well pleasing unto the Lord” (Col. 3:20). “We . . . do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:22).  Let this never be forgotten, for it is a very comfortable doctrine. Just as a parent is pleased with the efforts of his little child to please him, though it be only by picking a daisy or walking across a room, so is our Father in heaven pleased with the poor performances of His believing children. He looks at the motive, principle and intention of their actions and not merely at their quantity and quality. He regards them as members of His own dear Son, and for His sake, wherever there is a single eye, He is well pleased.

and

True holiness does not make a Christian evade difficulties, but face and overcome them. Christ would have His people show that His grace is not a mere hot–house plant, which can only thrive under shelter, but a strong, hardy thing which can flourish in every relation of life. It is doing our duty in that state to which God has called us, like salt in the midst of corruption and light in the midst of darkness, which is a primary element in sanctification. It is not the man who hides himself in a cave, but the man who glorifies God as master or servant, parent or child, in the family and in the street, in business and in trade, who is the scriptural type of a sanctified man. Our Master Himself said in His last prayer, “I pray not that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil” (John 17:15).

I also liked J.C. Ryle’s explanation concerning the “passive graces”:

Genuine sanctification, in the last place, will show itself in habitual attention to the passive graces of Christianity. When I speak of passive graces, I mean those graces which are especially shown in submission to the will of God and in bearing and forbearing towards one another. Few people, perhaps, unless they have examined the point, have an idea how much is said about these graces in the New Testament and how important a place they seem to fill. This is the special point which St. Peter dwells upon in commending our Lord Jesus Christ’s example to our notice: “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: who did no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth: who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judges righteously” (1 Pet. 2:21–23). This is the one piece of profession which the Lord’s prayer requires us to make: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us,” and the one point that is commented upon at the end of the prayer. This is the point which occupies one third of the list of the fruits of the Spirit supplied by St. Paul. Nine are named and three of these, patience, gentleness and meekness, are unquestionably passive graces (Gal. 5:22, 23). I must plainly say that I do not think this subject is sufficiently considered by Christians. The passive graces are no doubt harder to attain than the active ones, but they are precisely the graces which have the greatest influence on the world. Of one thing I feel very sure: it is nonsense to pretend to sanctification unless we follow after the meekness, gentleness, patience and forgivingness of which the Bible makes so much.

This chapter also includes a helpful comparison / contrast between Justification and Sanctification:

a.  Justification is the reckoning and counting a man to be righteous for the sake of another, even Jesus Christ the Lord. Sanctification is the actual making a man inwardly righteous, though it may be in a very feeble degree.

b. The righteousness we have by our justification is not our own, but the everlasting perfect righteousness of our great Mediator Christ, imputed to us, and made our own by faith. The righteousness we have by sanctification is our own righteousness, imparted, inherent and wrought in us by the Holy Spirit but mingled with much infirmity and imperfection.

c. In justification our own works have no place at all, and simple faith in Christ is the one thing needful. In sanctification our own works are of vast importance, and God bids us fight and watch and pray and strive and take pains and labor.

d. Justification is a finished and complete work, and a man is perfectly justified the moment he believes. Sanctification is an imperfect work, comparatively, and will never be perfected until we reach heaven.

e. Justification admits of no growth or increase: a man is as much justified the hour he first comes to Christ by faith as he will be to all eternity. Sanctification is eminently a progressive work and admits of continual growth and enlargement so long as a man lives.

f. Justification has special reference to our persons, our standing in God’s sight, and our deliverance from guilt. Sanctification has special reference to our natures and the moral renewal of our hearts.

g. Justification gives us our title to heaven and boldness to enter in. Sanctification gives us our fitness for heaven and prepares us to enjoy it when we dwell there.

h. Justification is the act of God about us and is not easily discerned by others. Sanctification is the work of God within us and cannot be hid in its outward manifestation from the eyes of men.

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